Comment: Voters chose climate action in Saturday’s election, giving Australia a chance to get out of the “naughty corner” and restore its international reputation
Australia has been a major laggard in climate action over the last decade. Last year it took home the activists’ “colossal fossil” award from UN climate talks.
Successive Australian Governments have ignored global calls for increased ambition and interpreted their national interest as the fossil fuel industry’s interests. Naomi Klein, the author, noted that Australia is not able to tell where the federal government ends and the coal industry begins.
That is best personified in Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, who brandished a lump of coal in Parliament to show his enduring support for the industry. Sorry, I meant former Prime minister Morrison. Because Australians overwhelmingly voted on Saturday 21st May for climate action.
Incoming prime minister Anthony Albanese, from the Australian Labor Party, promises to move the country out of the “naughty corner” on climate change. Australia didn’t increase its 2030 target, unlike most G20 countries, before the Cop26 summit, which took place in Glasgow, UK.
The new target will reduce emissions by 43% from 2005 levels. This is an increase from the 26% target. However, it is still below what science requires. There is an opportunity for even greater reductions.
In addition to the Labor party victory, there were unprecedented numbers of independent candidates who ran on stronger climate action agendas.
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Six seats that were once safe for the incumbent conservative government in wealthiest areas of the country were lost by independent, educated women. Their agenda centred on climate action, integrity, and gender equality – all found wanting from the conservative Morrison government.
Although they are not part of the same party, these independent candidates share similar concerns and will work together to push the next Australian government in a right or left direction regarding climate action. Add to this the progressive Greens party which also impressively snapped up seats in the city of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, the state synonymous with Australia’s coal industry.
In the 2022 Climate Change Performance Index, Australia was last on climate policy. This will change.
The Labor government is promising to increase the renewable percentage in the electricity mix by 82% by 2030, as opposed to 30% currently. This will accelerate the clean-energy transition. It will implement tax reforms for electric cars (given low uptake), and create a national charging network with stations at 150 km intervals. It will also address Australians’ range anxiety fuelled by Morrison’s claims that EVs can’t tow anything or drive distances and therefore would literally “end the weekend”.
This change was long overdue for many Australians involved in climate change research (author included). It took the suffering and anger of the last three years from unprecedented fires and coral bleaching and floods, exacerbated by climate change and poorly managed by the federal government.
Cop26 saw Australia refuse to increase its short term targets, despite strong pressure from the US and UK. But the former prime Minister always found the money and the time to support fossil fuels. Consider his economic response in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. He wanted to pursue a gas recovery and open five massive fossil gas basins.
The new government faces a daunting task, not only on the domestic front but also on the international one. Morrison pulled Australia out of the UN’s Green Climate Fund on a whim while chatting to a rightwing radio host. It is why the Labor Party’s most impressive policy is to bid to host 2024 UN climate conference (Cop29).
In the 30-year history of the UN climate body, Australia has not hosted and it doesn’t want to do it alone. Labor has invited a Pacific island state to participate in this bid because it recognizes the danger of climate change for its Pacific neighbours. They can, if they so choose.
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Anote Tong, a former Kiribati president said that hosting is not important unless it is backed by action. This could be as simple as re-joining the Green Climate Fund and contributing to it. Tong also recommends harder actions such as a true transition away fossil fuels.
Australia is third largest exporter and has 114 new coal mining projects. They could add over 1.5 billion tonnes of emissions, most of which will not show up in Australia’s carbon accounts as the fuel will be burned overseas. Australia is currently a leader in exporting the problem. It might export the solutions.
Given Australia’s rich resources and rare earth minerals, the incoming prime minister hopes to transform Australia into a superpower in renewable energy. He wants to make Australia great again. This includes building a new reputation in Australia that transcends fossil fuels.
Let’s hope so. Let’s hope Albanese can create an Australia that harnesses the wave of climate action which swept him and others into government.
Richie Merzian is the climate & energy program director at the Australia Institute, a leading public policy think tank based in Canberra.
Source: Climate Change News